ICE­LANDIC DE­LIGHTS

FOR xAV JUDD, ICE­LAND HAD A LOT TO LIVE UP TO – AND FROM REYK­JAVIK AND BEYOND IT DID JUST THAT

Pride Life Magazine - - CONTENTS -

It’s hot, hot, hot up in Ice­land

I’m not go­ing to lie, I’m an un­abashed lover of ev­ery­thing Nordic. So when it came to visit the only coun­try in that re­gion I hadn’t been to, Ice­land, it had a lot to live up to. Es­pe­cially if one con­sid­ers that Nor­way, with its cap­ti­vat­ing fjords and plethora of en­tic­ing win­ter pur­suits is a dream des­ti­na­tion, and how the moon­lit-meadow pretty ar­chi­tec­ture and bon­homie vibe found in Stock­holm make it a home away from home.

Ice­land is like a sin­gle pearl that’s slipped out of a lady’s brooch and got lost in the pile of an enor­mous navy car­pet; an is­land adrift in choppy waters be­tween the North At­lantic and the Arc­tic Ocean. As its ur­ban area con­tains nearly two thirds of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion, a great place to base one­self is in Reyk­javík. The world’s north­ern­most cap­i­tal, this wel­com­ing, cos­mopoli­tan hol­i­day haven is on the south­west coast.

Di­vided into ten dis­tricts, Reyk­javík is ac­tu­ally quite a small com­pact city, which means that the ma­jor­ity of the trendi­est shops and bars are within ten minute’s walk­ing dis­tance of each other. Many are sit­u­ated in and around the main drag, Lau­gave­gur, lit­er­ally trans­lat­ing to “wash road”. In the past, it was the route to the hot springs where the lo­cals took their clothes to laun­der. And if you want to clean up in the stores, KronKron (Lau­gave­gur 63b, kronkron.com) does international de­sign­ers such as Marc Ja­cobs and Vivi­enne West­wood, plus Scan­di­na­vian brands like Acne Stu­dios and knitwear spe­cial­ist, S. N. S. Hern­ing. Or, to doff your cap to yes­ter­year, swing by Spúút­nik (28b), as it’s the spot for hip retro ap­parel.

Just in case all that brows­ing’s worked up an ap­petite, try Sand­holt (Lau­gave­gur 36, sand­holt. is). Five gen­er­a­tions of the fam­ily have op­er­ated this homey bak­ery since the 1920s, so one can be sure their cakes, pas­tries and ice cream will erad­i­cate the munchies. Breads are a par­tic­u­lar forte - delve into their quinoa, sour­dough and smoked pump­kin seed va­ri­eties - in an es­tab­lish­ment that also serves a top-notch lunch and din­ner.

At the other end of the road, what gay man doesn’t fan­ta­sise about a huge pecker? Well, you might en­counter a lot more than you bar­gained for in the Ice­landic Phal­lo­log­i­cal Mu­seum (Lau­gave­gur 116, phal­lus.is/en). Surely one of the odd­est col­lec­tions of any­thing ever as­sem­bled any­where, you’ve guessed it, this tiny gallery deals with the di­ver­sity of the sch­long in the an­i­mal king­dom. To be more pre­cise, the 200 or so “mem­bers” and pe­nile parts are those of land and sea mam­mals na­tive to the is­land, in­clud­ing some su­per-duper en­dowed whales.

Still on Lau­gave­gur, oc­cu­py­ing the same cor­ner build­ing (22), is where you’ll find the cap­i­tal’s pair of gay venues. Bravo is a quaint, cosy mixed bar where one can chat with the laid­back, mainly-English speak­ing lo­cals and get sloshed on the de­li­cious na­tive al­co­holic brew, bren­nivín (schnapps) - nick­named “black death”. Above this premises is the only LGBT club in the coun­try, Kiki (kiki.is) - open Thurs­day (happy hour all evening), Fri­day and Satur­day nights. Its ex­te­rior is rain­bow-coloured cor­ru­gated iron (báru­járn) – many of the older houses in town, which are often made of tim­ber, are sim­i­larly cov­ered in pleas­ing shades of the sheet metal. While in the de­light­fully kitsch in­te­rior – vi­su­alise pink wall­pa­per, a Judy Gar­land Wiz­ard of Oz pic­ture and mir­ror balls – pa­trons move their feet to a mix­ture of chiefly pop and elec­tron­ica on the dance floor. Up­stairs, there’s a small sit­ting space and a sec­ond bar.

Of course, Reyk­javik’s Lil­liputian gay scene is down to its size rather than any ho­mo­pho­bic sen­ti­ment. In­deed, Ice­land is one of the most pro­gres­sive na­tions on the planet when it comes to LGBT rights. Same-sex ac­tiv­ity was le­galised way back in 1940, and it was the first coun­try to have an openly gay head of state, Jóhanna Sig­urðardót­tir (2009-2013).

Pride (hin­seginda­gar.is/en) is held ev­ery Au­gust – ex­pect quite mod­er­ate tem­per­a­tures with an av­er­age of just 11C At this time, over one hun­dred thou­sand in­di­vid­u­als from all over the world rock up to the cap­i­tal for this übercel­e­bra­tion. Dur­ing the event, a ma­jor fo­cus of which is to pro­mote vis­i­bil­ity, in­clu­sive­ness and courage, look for­ward to a heady mix of par­ties, pol­i­tics and cul­ture. The cul­mi­na­tion of this six-day jam­boree is an ex­hil­a­rat­ing pa­rade; typ­i­cally, a host of par­tic­i­pants – some on fab­u­lous floats - make their way from BSÍ bus ter­mi­nal to Arnarhóll, in front of about 40,000 peo­ple who have flocked into the down­town area to get a glimpse of all the ac­tion.

Started just over 10 years ago, an­other un­miss­able hap­pen­ing based in Reyk­javik is Bears on Ice (bear­son­ice.org). It’s a four-day, friendly so­cial event for these cud­dly heav­ies and

“You might en­counter a lot more than you bar­gained for in the Ice­landic Phal­lo­log­i­cal Mu­seum”

their ad­mir­ers, oc­cur­ring ev­ery Septem­ber. As well as a cou­ple of par­ties, they run two ex­cur­sions from the cap­i­tal to places that I would rec­om­mend for ev­ery­one.

Firstly, the Golden Cir­cle tour is a day trip that in­volves a visit to three of Ice­land’s nat­u­ral won­ders: the spec­tac­u­lar Gull­foss wa­ter­fall; the epony­mous Geysir, which has given its name to all spout­ing hot springs; and the Un­esco World Her­itage-listed Þingvel­lir Na­tional Park, an en­tranc­ing rugged land­scape, where one of the globe’s old­est ex­tant par­lia­ments, the Alth­ing, was set up in AD930.

The other amaz­ing jaunt en­tails a 50-minute drive from Reyk­javik – or a 20-minute one from the other ma­jor de­par­ture point, Ke­flavík International Air­port – to the iconic Blue La­goon (240 Grin­davík, blue­la­goon.com). The near-by Svart­sengi Power Sta­tion pro­vides this large geo­ther­mal spa with min­eral-rich wa­ter that is heated to a sooth­ing 38C. A soak in its milky aqua­ma­rine hot pool, while your face is caked in re­vi­tal­is­ing sil­ica mud, is a slice of heaven.

Ac­cord­ing to Land­námabók, a me­dieval chron­i­cle, in AD874 the first set­tler ar­rived in Ice­land, the Nor­we­gian chief­tain Ingólfr Arnar­son. Over the next cou­ple of cen­turies, many of his com­pa­tri­ots and a few other Scan­di­na­vians also be­came per­ma­nent res­i­dents. An in­sti­tu­tion that of­fers a com­plete overview of these events and brings one up to the present day in re­spect of this coun­try’s en­gag­ing his­tory, is the Na­tional Mu­seum of Ice­land (Suður­gata41,thjod­min­jasafn.is/english). Sit­u­ated in the city cen­tre close to Lake Tjörnin, some of the coolest ex­hibits in­clude a carved 13th­cen­tury wooden church door, the Valþjóf­sstaðir; the over one-mil­len­nium-old Eyrar­land Statue (it’s gen­er­ally pre­sumed to be the Norse god Thor); and var­i­ous hoards of an­cient sil­ver.

If there’s one jour­ney out of Reyk­javik that high­lights the mes­meris­ing, al­most mys­ti­cal Ice­landic coun­try­side, then it’s the 6-hour roundtrip to the Thrihnukagigur vol­cano (in­sid­e­thevol­cano.com). It’s not so as­ton­ish­ing that it’s here, be­cause this na­tion sits astride the MidAt­lantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North Amer­i­can plates are drift­ing apart, so seis­mic ac­tiv­ity abounds. How­ever, it is a sur­prise that a hu­man can de­scend 120 me­tres into a crater - don’t worry, it’s been dor­mant for over 4,000 years, so you won’t get as scorched as char­coal – and then ex­plore its fas­ci­nat­ing, lit-up in­te­rior. On the way to this gi­gan­tic land­mark, it’s nec­es­sary to un­der­take a mod­er­ate 50-minute hike. That’s when a person will de­velop a real feel for this bar­ren – to the ex­tent that NASA as­tro­nauts used it as an ap­prox­i­ma­tion of the moon’s sur­face dur­ing train­ing – yet ex­traor­di­nar­ily beau­ti­ful ter­rain.

In fact, Ice­land’s breath­tak­ing scenery has played a role in the de­sign of Reyk­javik’s most iden­ti­fi­able at­trac­tion, Hall­grím­skirkja church (Hall­grím­storg 101, hallgrimskirkja.is/english). Con­structed be­tween 1945 and 1986, al­though this white con­crete ed­i­fice some­what re­sem­bles a retro space­ship, it’s ac­tu­ally mod­elled af­ter the basalt lava flows that so char­ac­terise this in­trigu­ing coun­try. As this tem­ple is 73 me­tres tall, it has an ob­ser­va­tion tower that peers down over the cap­i­tal.

I must con­fess, I didn’t even know how to spell (let alone pro­nounce) Reyk­javik be­fore my so­journ here. Nonethe­less, her am­i­ca­ble peo­ple and a raft of in­ter­est­ing mu­se­ums has meant that this Nordic city has made one hell of an im­pres­sion.

CLOCK­WISE: REYK­JAVIK SKY­LINE; GEYSIR; IN­SIDE THE THRIHNUKAGIGUR VOLCAN (PHOTO © EVELINA KREMSDORF)

THIS PAGE CLOCK­WISE: HALLGRIMSKIRKJA CHURCH; GEYSIR; THE NORTH­ERN LIGHTS; GRAZ­ING SHEEP IN SUM­MER

THE HIJÓDAKLETTAR CLIFFS IN THE JOKULSARLJUFUR NA­TIONAL PARK

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